Water Man Spouts

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Sources

"By the end of September, the president’s war resolution was no sure thing. The White House had trimmed it back, dumping the language that authorized Bush to go to war to achieve stability in the region. Still, the White House faced a threat. Senator Joe Biden and two Republican senators on his foreign relations committee – Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel – were pushing an alternative that would narrow the president’s authority further. Under their proposal, Bush would be able to attack Iraq only for the purpose of destroying Iraq’s WMDs and only after seeking UN approval. If the United Nations said no, Bush would have to come back to Congress and demonstrate that the Iraqi weapons threat was so ‘grave’ that only military action could eliminate it. The Biden-Lugar measure was attracting support from both Democrats and Republicans. And, according to Biden, he and his allies were getting backdoor advice and encouragement from the administration’s reluctant warriors: Powell and Armitage. The White House was worried about Biden’s endeavor, and Bush was furious. ‘I don’t want a resolution such as this that ties my hands,’ he told Senator Trent Lott. The president, according to Lott, gave him an emphatic order: ‘Derail the Biden legislation, and make sure its language never sees the light of day.’

"But it was Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House and past and future presidential candidate, who derailed the bipartisan effort. He had already said he thought Iraq was a threat and that he was open to backing the president. …Gephardt’s thinking had been shaped by the former Clinton national security aides, including Holbrooke, Pollack, and James Steinberg, who were arguing that Saddam had to be confronted. But Biden and other Democrats wondered if another factor was influencing Gephardt: presidential politics. Gephardt, an earnest and dogged politician, was determined to run in 2004. …Eleven years earlier, he had voted against the first Persian Gulf War. If he cast a similar vote now, he could expect to be tagged by Republicans as soft and too hesitant to use military force. Gephardt reached an agreement with the president’s negotiators. At 1:15 in the afternoon on October 2, the White House held a Rose Garden ceremony with a crowd of senators and representatives from both parties to announce a resolution had been finalized. Standing right next to Bush, along with Hastert and Lott, was Gephardt.

"Gephardt had been urged by his political advisers to be by Bush’s side at the White House that day. …. Gephardt’s decision to back the president’s resolution killed Biden’s bipartisan alternative in the Senate and guaranteed a victory for the White House. When Biden consulted with Senate Republicans, they all said the same thing: How can we be to the left of Dick Gephardt? Biden’s effort to impose conditions on Bush’s march to war was finished."
--Michael Isikoff and David Corn; Hubris; 2006; pages 127-128.

{1} The above quote comes from Chapter 7, "A Tale of Two Sources," from Corn & Isikoff’s book. I think it is important information to consider when discussing the 2008 democratic primary, for a couple of reasons.

We have two candidates who are hoping to run against Republican John McCain in November. In the fall campaign, the issue of the war in Iraq will play a central role. McCain supported President Bush’s push to war in Iraq, and has stated that he thinks the US may need to remain in Iraq for at least another 100 years.

Senator Hillary Clinton voted for the war, but has since said that if she knew then what she knows now, she would have voted differently.

Barack Obama was not in the US Senate at the time, but is firmly on record as being opposed to the Bush-Cheney march to war.

Democrats backing each of the two candidates take very different positions on the significance of Clinton and Obama’s positions at the time the administration was pushing for war. Some Clinton supporters believe that members of the congress simply didn’t know the administration was lying about the "threat" that Iraq posed. The quotes from "Hubris" and from Bob Woodward’s "State of Denial," quoted below, suggest otherwise.

More, in "Hubris," we see that Dick Gephard was willing not only to ignore the information that was available, but would betray both democrats and republicans who were trying to keep our nation out of an unnecessary war. Why did Gephardt behave in such manner? For one reason: he placed his presidential ambitions above anything and everything else.

Some people are pointing to Chuck Hagel’s support of Senator Barack Obama as if it undercuts Obama’s credibility. When we take into account the actual history of Hagel’s opposition to the Iraq war, it is those attacks on Hagel which lack credibility.

"On September 29, 2005, I went to the Senate to have breakfast with Senator Carl Levin, 71, of Michigan, a 26-year Senate veteran and the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. … Before the war, he had believed that Saddam had WMD but he didn’t think that was a good enough reason to invade. Levin voted against the war ….

" ‘I tried in 10 different ways to get that declassified,’ Levin said. ‘Because if we could have brought out in advance of the attack that we had not shared with the U.N. all of the sites that we were suspicious of, it would have put a chill on the decision to go to war.’ ….

"Levin said that the inspection process was incomplete, not thorough. It could have delayed the war, he believed, but not stopped it. He complained about ‘all of the shadings, exaggerations, and hype’ about WMD by Bush and Cheney and said it ‘showed the most willful and purposeful intent’ to create a deception. ….

" ‘Powell had the potential to change the course here,’ Levin continued. ….’If he told the president that this is the wrong course,’ Levin said. ‘I don’t think he ever realized what power lay in his hands, and that’s an abdiction. I think Powell has tremendous power.’ He said Powell had a number of things he could have done to slow down if not possibly stop the war. He could have threatened to resign or insisted that the U.N. weapons inspectors be allowed to continue, Levin said. When Bush asked Powell in January 2003 if he would be with him in the war, Levin said, Powell was at the peak of his influence.

" ‘Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d said, "I’ve got to give that a little thought"? Can you imagine the power of that one person to change the course? He had it’."
--Bob Woodward; State of Denial; 2006; pages 415-417.

{2} From Woodward’s book, we find more information that shows there were reasons for democrats in congress to question the Bush march to war in Iraq. Claims that congress didn’t know that Bush and Cheney were pushing misinformation are without simply wrong.

Senator Levin raises a most important point for democrats to consider. It goes beyond what role Colin Powell might have played, were he motivated by conscience in 2003. Rather, it has to do with the power that an individual has to seek the truth, and to stand up for their country and do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.

Colin Powell lacked the spine to stand up to President Bush and VP Cheney. Dick Gephardt was so intent on becoming president, that he blocked out all thoughts about the horrors that his support for the war would cause. He needed that Rose Garden photo opportunity.
We need a different type of leader.

When our democratic nominee debates Senator John McCain this fall, the topics will include the war in Iraq, national security, and US policy in the Middle East and other lands. Do we want the democratic candidate to be Senator Clinton, who voted for the war? Or for Senator Obama, who spoke out against the war? I think the choice is obvious.


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